Romney and Obama at Denver debate
Rick Wilking / Reuters

Newspaper candidate endorsements are an anachronism, a relic of a time during which readers didn’t have access to the internet, didn’t have an entire world of research and rhetoric at their fingertips. The Knoxville News Sentinel admitted as much earlier this year, when it announced that it would no longer endorse a candidate for the presidency. After all, they “have no sources of information that every other citizen does not have as well.” That doesn’t stop most newspapers. Most papers still see endorsements as a responsibility — and an opportunity to establish their own importance.

We decided to survey the endorsements that have been given to date (by newspapers with circulations of 100,000 or more) to assess the extent to which those endorsements address issues of concern to Grist readers; specifically, the environment and energy, and food. (In case you’re curious, the endorsements, like the polling, show a generally even split.)

Guess what? They rarely, rarely did. The only time food came up in any editorial was as part of the phrase “food stamps,” used in editorials bashing the president. “Climate” came up every so often — but more regularly when used in conjunction with “business.” “Climate change” was mentioned twice — twice! — in the 21 endorsements we looked at.

(The University of California at Santa Barbara provides an ongoing list of endorsements, a hugely valuable tool that we relied on. Many more papers have yet to weigh in.)

The endorsements
Provided are the outlet, the city it serves, its 2012 and 2008 endorsements, and any quotes related to the issues at hand. Newspapers are listed in declining order by circulation.

Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles, Calif.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.

[Romney has] also advocated rolling back the clock on clean energy, overturning Roe v. Wade and leaving women’s reproductive rights at the mercy of state legislators and abandoning efforts to help distressed borrowers keep their homes.

Dallas Morning News
Dallas, Texas
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.

Left to languish [by Obama] were a broad-based energy bill, comprehensive immigration reform, entitlement reform and, most ominously, effective job-creation programs.

Denver Post
Denver, Colo.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.

Romney notes correctly that North America is poised to become an energy exporter. But the drill-at-all-costs mantra he is pushing runs counter to the predominant view in Colorado, which is one that balances energy and environment — particularly when it comes to public land. And, unlike the Republican nominee, we believe our nation’s energy portfolio must include government investment in renewable sources such as wind and solar — both of which can become sources of more power and more jobs in the future.

Houston Chronicle
Houston, Texas
2012: Romney. 2008: Obama.

As Texans, it is a particular vexation that this president’s attitude toward the interests of our state has occasionally bordered on contempt, particularly in decisions relating to the NASA budget and the energy sector. The hurtful symbol of this attitude of insensitivity to Texans’ feelings was the administration’s choice to deny Space City’s bid to become home to one of the retired space shuttles. …

There is a launching pad to reignite the national economy: It is the abundance of affordable domestic energy that has revealed itself so dramatically over the past several years. We refer primarily to the resources of natural gas and oil from shale rock that have become available through the technologies of horizontal drilling and fracturing. …

President Obama’s failure to identify the economic opportunities these resources offer is mystifying. In our 2008 endorsement we cautioned the president against demonizing the energy sector — good advice that he has never heeded (see Keystone XL Pipeline). By contrast, Gov. Romney has listed energy atop his five-point plan to rejuvenate the economy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia, Pa.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Arizona Republic
Phoenix, Ariz.
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.

[Obama] has consolidated federal power and reach in health care, banking, the auto industry and energy production. He has fostered the view that all good economic things flow from Washington.

Tampa Bay Times
Tampa, Fla.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Plain Dealer
Cleveland, Ohio
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.

Obama’s leadership has made a difference when it mattered most. His stimulus package helped avert an even worse economic collapse and initiated investments in education, manufacturing and green energy that should yet pay dividends.

Star-Ledger
Newark, N.J.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.

[Obama’s] health care reform will bring coverage to 31 million people and gives consumers new powers against insurers. Doubling automobile efficiency will lead to historic gains in clean air and energy independence. …

He never delivered on promised immigration reform or climate change. And while he’s faced a Congress in the grasp of extremists, he’s never found an effective answer, or even made them pay a price. He is, in the end, a good president but not a great one.

Seattle Times
Seattle, Wash.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Las Vegas Review-Journal
Las Vegas, Nev.
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.

Nevadans need a president with a vision and political philosophy capable of restoring ingenuity, competition and excellence to our education and health care systems, of paring back the budget deficit and the explosive growth of our debt, of keeping energy affordable, of bringing back jobs and prosperity not just here, but in every American city with residents who want enough economic security to be able to take a Las Vegas vacation. …

Mr. Obama has a much different recipe for lifting the middle class: higher taxes on investors, job creators and small businesses; borrowing money to fund more public-sector jobs and government construction projects; borrowing money to fund more green energy enterprises and projects, which make electricity more expensive, while limiting the oil and coal industries; and pushing more young people to seek a debt-funded college education when they have little hope of landing a job upon graduation.

The suggestion that tax increases and higher energy prices will lift the middle class defies logic.

Sacramento Bee
Sacramento, Calif.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.

In a second term, with just a little help from Congress, he could finish the job [of moving the country toward economic recovery] and pursue other priorities, including upgrading transportation infrastructure, reinvesting in higher education and making the United States a leader in clean energy technologies.

By contrast, Romney has been all over the map on climate change, health care reform and fiscal policy, and he seems determined to lead us into a costly war in Iran, regardless of the consequences.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Fort Worth, Texas
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.

Unfortunately for him and despite his achievements — a viable if not perfect healthcare plan, U.S. troops out of Iraq and headed for departure (except for fast-response teams) from Afghanistan, vigilance against al Qaeda and other terrorist threats, a strong but not overly restrictive environmental program and attention to alternative energy sources — Obama would face the same domestic policy traps in at least the first two years of a second term as he did in the last two years of his first.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh, Pa.
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis, Mo.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Orlando Sentinel
Orlando, Fla.
2012: Romney. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Charlotte Observer
Charlotte, N.C.
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio, Texas
2012: Obama. 2008: McCain.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Omaha World-Herald
Omaha, Neb.
2012: Romney. 2008: McCain.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

The Tennessean
Nashville, Tenn.
2012: Romney. 2008: Obama.

The term “elephant in the room” could have been coined for this moment. Because as important as foreign policy, social issues, immigration and the environment continue to be, this election hinges on Americans’ fear of a European-style economic collapse. No other issue will matter more, and to more voters, on Election Day. …

However, for all [Obama’s] efforts, ranging from the stimulus package to green-energy development, to bring us out of recession, he has never found the key.

Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake City, Utah
2012: Obama. 2008: Obama.
No mentions of climate, energy, or food policy.

Final thoughts
That climate change came up so infrequently is stunning. It reveals that climate activists shouldn’t just be worried about the issue not being mentioned during the debates, but about climate change hardly being mentioned at all in our national political dialogue. That newspaper editorial boards — many of which serve cities like Houston and Tampa that could be affected by rising sea levels — would not consider addressing climate change in a presidential endorsement is stunning.

Then again, editorial boards are far more likely to follow convention wisdom than to lead it. As media critic Jay Rosen put it on Twitter:

Our overview provides a pretty strong argument as for why.